SFR: Hadn't there been an Amnesty International group in Santa Fe about 10 years ago? ***image1***
ST: Actually, your mention of us in "Winners" [Oct. 17, Winners & Losers: "Community Action"ï¿½] a few months ago alerted the conveners of the old group to contact me. I'm going to be getting boxes of ephemera from them. And thanks to the old group we're starting with $1,200. It is still Group 122, which is what it was called 10 years ago.
So, how did you decide to form the group?
I spent the prime of my life running two small businesses and I never really had any extra energy to do anything. So, when I closed one of my businesses a year and a half ago, I really felt like it was time to give back. I was a member of Amnesty in college and that's actually a pretty typical demographic in Amnesty: People who did it when they were younger, then fell away when they got busier and then returned to it when they got older and found more time.
How big is the new group?
We rarely have less than eight people at a meeting and we've had as many as 16. That doesn't sound like a lot, but Amnesty considers a local group to be viable with a membership of six. So, eight to 16 is really good, considering we only just started in April 2007. We started simply as letter writers. Now we're finding out that there's a lot more we can do.
Tables at public events is one of the actions we're going to work on this year and another big thing we're going to try to do is screenings and lectures. As of Jan. 1, we have a permanent home, an excellent one, at the Social Sciences building at the College of Santa Fe. We will be able to share speakers and we will have this wonderful venue open to us, with theaters and lecture halls.
Hasn't Group 122 just joined a letter-writing competition?
Yes. We have three real viable groups in New Mexico: 463 in Las Vegas, which is just a powerhouse of a group, and then there's our group and the Albuquerque group: 101. The Albuquerque group came up with this letter-writing challenge for 2008. It begins and ends on Human Rights Day, so it began Dec. 10, 2007, and it will end on Dec. 10, 2008. We are going to count all of our letters in physical or electronic form that support any Amnesty action or campaign. We report our letter count every month on the Albuquerque group's Web site [www.ai101abq.org/]then, in June, we get together and have a bit of a party to see where our numbers are. We'll have another party on Dec. 10 to congratulate the winners.
Do you really have a chance against the Las Vegas group?
To be perfectly honest, we don't. But I don't tell the membership that. We know we're not going to win in that sense, but it's already increased our letters to the editor, which I think are so important. And it's already increased people showing up who maybe weren't going to. So, really, we've already won, because there's nothing like competition to get people's juices running.
What human rights issues from 2007 do you think will carry into 2008?
In 2008, we're going to hopefully move full steam ahead on fighting private military contractors. We have written to Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, George Bush, but with the private military contractors problem, we're really looking to Congress. In 2007, it was [US] Rep. David Price from North Carolina and [US] Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois who introduced legislation regarding PMCs.
You're talking about Blackwater?
Yes. They have no oversight and they're accountable to no one, which is pretty much against our Second Amendment. We saw it in Katrina, when they were on the streets of New Orleans. It's getting kind of scary. The Military Commissions Act is going to be another thing that we try to curtail and change. We're trying to get the Bush administration to stop speaking opaquely about what torture is. There's no gray area with torture.
You mentioned Obama. How do you think the presidential campaigns have dealt with human rights?
I don't think any of the platforms have had enough discussion of the issues we need to be talking about, especially human rights. It's kind of scary how people really don't believe in torture. Terrorism is such an abstract notion that when people find out we really may be torturing, it almost makes them say it's OK because that sounds as abstract as terrorism.
Can you explain the difference to me between civil rights and human rights?
Civil rights make me think of a governmental set of rights, which can change from government to government or group to group, whereas human rights state if you are part of the human family, we are all afforded the same exact rights and respect and dignity. That's why the death penalty and torture and the loss of habeas corpus are so against everything an organization like Amnesty stands for.